Ontario legislators set to return Tuesday for pre-election session

By Holly McKenzie-Sutter

TORONTO – Pandemic recovery, housing and affordability will be top of mind for Ontario’s party leaders as the legislature resumes sitting Tuesday for the last few weeks of the session ahead of a June election.

Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government has at least one more major piece of legislation – its annual budget – to table before voters head to the polls. The spending plan that’s due before the end of March will likely give an early look at the Ford government’s re-election platform.

It could include promised cuts to the provincial gas tax, which Ford has said will come before the next budget, or an income-tax cut that was promised in the 2018 election platform. Another unknown in the mix is the pending deal with Ottawa on its $10-a-day child-care plan, which remains in the negotiation stage despite all other provinces and territories signing on.

Measures to tackle skyrocketing home prices in the province – which have nearly tripled in the last decade despite slower income growth – appears to be another area of focus for Ford’s government before the session concludes.

A task force focused on housing affordability convened by the provincial government last year recommended in its final report that the province increase density and limit consultations in order to quickly build more homes, among other recommendations. It named a goal of building 1.5 million homes in 10 years.

Housing Minister Steve Clark told The Canadian Press this month that he intends to enact some of the solutions through legislation or regulation at some point before the election.

The housing affordability crisis was also a top issue for the opposition parties that laid out their priorities ahead of the week’s session.

New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath said “brutal” housing costs that have left people unable to afford homes or keep up with skyrocketing rents need to be addressed

Recovery from the pandemic should also be a priority, the Opposition leader said, naming financial supports for businesses, workers and the health system. Her party also intends to table legislation written with the National Council of Canadian Muslims to tackle Islamophobia and racism.

“We know that the election is coming, but we can actually use this session to put forward solutions that will actually help people get through, not only the next couple of months, but recovering from this pandemic,” Horwath told reporters on Friday.

She said the government should focus on helping people and not the June election date.

“I hope they prioritize supporting everyday people,” she said. “I don’t want to see Doug Ford out campaigning for the next three months.”

Mike Schreiner of the Ontario Greens, who currently holds his party’s only seat in the legislature – with a goal to grow the caucus on June 2 – said addressing housing affordability is also a top priority, along with climate crisis solutions that take affordability concerns into account.

“Greens have solutions to these problems, but it requires the Ford government to work across party and jurisdictional lines and focus (on) what’s best for the people of Ontario, not partisan politics,” he said.

The Liberals, who will be fighting to regain seats lost after their 2018 defeat to Ford’s Tories, also intend to focus on affordability and pandemic response.

The party led by Steven Del Duca intends to call for a finalized child-care deal, expanded access to COVID-19 rapid tests and introduce legislation adding COVID-19 vaccines to a list of immunizations in schools.